Friday, May 13, 2011

Planes, trains and automobiles

We set off a week before Christmas 1998.

Arnaud, me and our 7 month old baby, Ethan, were on our way to France from the Czech Republic to celebrate the holiday with Arnaud's family. We had also arranged (or rather, my mother in law had arranged) to have Ethan baptized in a local Catholic Church on Christmas Day.

My husband didn't want to pay the airport parking fees in Prague, so it was decided that we would take the train from our small village to the big city.

We packed as little as we could, as there would be a lot of walking and connections to make which means we would have to be able to carry everything we brought. I put Ethan in the snugly, my jacket covering us both, then put an over sized backpack on and a large cooler (with all our baby foods and snacks) over one shoulder. With one hand, I carried the diaper bag.

Arnaud was just as heavily laden as I was, with a backpack on his back, on his front, and dragging our large suitcase behind him.

We arrived at the train station, and bought our tickets. Our plane tickets had been purchased the month prior, so we had to time everything perfectly.

We stood on the platform and waited. Ethan slept peacefully...but I was getting hot. We saw the train approach....but as it got closer, Arnaud realized it was the wrong one! Our train was on the next platform!

"Run! Sarah, quickly!" Arnaud shouted over the rumbled of the approaching train.

He was already jumping down on the tracks with his baggage, while I stood horrified at the thought of jumping in front of an oncoming train. If I didn't go, I would miss our only chance to catch the right train....but going meant risking mine and my baby's life if we tripped.

I still to this day cannot believe I jumped too...and ran for my life--literally!

We made it. I was sweating, and promised myself to yell at Arnaud when we were safe and sound on the train.

God had other plans.

The train was packed. Like sardines in a can. All the seats taken, all the hallways filled, people hanging on the outside of the train. Packed.

Arnaud climbed on first. My lip began quivering. My eyes began to tear up. He turned around and held his hand out to help me up. I could barely fit through the entrance with my over-loaded shoulders.

Then Arnaud disappeared into the train. He told me to wait where I was...among strangers...with our little baby boy....he was going to look for a place for me to sit for the ride. I wondered what the heck I was doing in this country, and why I had agreed to take a train to Prague.

The train began to move. I lost my balance, but a kind man grabbed onto me and my things and held me until I regained my feet. I thanked him. It was 30 minutes before I saw my husband again, and he led me down the hall, squeezing through the crowd, to an empty given up by a man who took compassion on a young father looking for a place that his wife and child could rest.

We arrived in Prague after 2 hours on that train. It was a subway terminal where we got off, and Arnaud went to look for the right line to take to the airport while I sat with our luggage. Ethan was awake and hungry by this time, so I took out some baby food and fed it to him in the snugly. I was hungry too, but I was not able to reach the snacks in the cooler, so I ignored the hunger pangs.

We boarded the subway with no problems, and arrived at the stop for the airport. This is where we found out we had to climb the stairs (there were about 300 of them) to get to street level where we would have to take a bus to the actual Airport!

I bit my lip so I wouldn't cry. I told Arnaud I was okay...but I wanted to just sit and rest my feet.

We continued on.

We made it to France. I began crying when I saw Arnaud's parents, and was given a big hug. I vowed never to take anything for granted about travel again. The visit was wonderful, and the baptism was just beautiful (I'll leave that story for another post).

Then we had to return. The same way we came. But in reverse order, with heavier baggage (we received LOTS of presents for Christmas).

Onto the plane we went. Arriving in Prague, we caught the bus that took us to the subway station...the subway was nearly empty, as most people were out partying on New Year's Eve. There was plenty of room to sit while riding.

It was looking like an easy trip back home! We had a whole cabin to ourselves on the train, so Ethan could sit by the window and have some space to play around for the 2 hour trip.

We arrived at the second-last stop before our town. It seemed an extra long stop, and eventually Arnaud got up to see what was going on. He was then informed that this was the last stop, and there were no more trains going to our town!

It was nearly 10:00 at night, and I just wanted to be home. We got off the train and began to walk aimlessly through the town. It was starting to snow. There was a light on in a hotel close-by, so we stepped in to see if we could rent a room for the night.

"Sorry, we are completely full. All the hotels and hostels are full on New Year's Eve."

We then asked if there were any taxis we could call, and were informed that there were none.

I began to cry, silently. Arnaud hugged me. He thanked the woman at the front desk, and we walked out into the cold again.

Just as we began to descend the stairs, someone called out to us in Czech, "Hey, hold on! I think I know someone who can help!" The man went into a back room where many people were drinking and ringing in the new year, and brought out an elderly man.

I don't remember his name, but he owned his own car. In the Czech Republic, most people did not own cars until they were in their mid-late 50's, as it cost them 10 years' salary.

He offered to drive us to our small town, a 30 minute drive. We eagerly accepted the offer. As we drove, I took out all the money I had on me and told Arnaud to pay him all of it. I didn't care if it was way more than a normal taxi ride would cost, I was just so thankful to be going home.

When we arrived at home, it was nearing 1:00 a.m. We unloaded the car with the driver's help, then Arnaud handed him the money. He had tears in his eyes, placed his hand upon Ethan's sleeping head, and refused the money.

He drove away. I never knew what it was like to meet an angel in real life. But I knew then....and I also knew that God was watching over us, and would continue to do so.